The Tortoise vs. The Hare. Or, Why Shock & Awe Doesn't Work

We all know the old children’s fable about the fast and alluring hare right?  Then there’s that ugly old tortoise that seems slow and really pretty darn unsexy.  I know, I know.  You already know the moral of that story:  Slow and steady wins the race.

Here’s the Problem

1204879 turtle1 The Tortoise vs. The Hare. Or, Why Shock & Awe Doesn't WorkEven though we all know and vaguely agree to this old adage we stil seem to be very attracted to the Hare strategy.  We get lured in by Shock and Awe.  (Full credit goes to my friend Scott Tibbitts for coining this phrase.)  We still believe that there’s one magic bullet out there and that all we have to do is find it and poof! all our troubles will be somehow transformed.

In the business world the hare is often big, splashy one-time events used as the main approach to change.  It’s often a full-day training or an executive retreat.  A BIG company meeting.  Or maybe it’s a lavish off-site where cool speakers are brought in there are lots of fun social activities with pretty drinks and maybe some hula dancers.  Whatever the method, the key to this is that it’s a one-time event.  This is what I refer to as the Shock and Awe approach to change.  There’s something to be said to the Shock and Awe approach in terms of catalyzing and focusing people in a business.  It can be a good first step.  The problem is that for most businesses it’s the only step.  They think that if they Shock and Awe everybody that it will be enough to produce change.  And it might.  For a time.

The problem with this is that while the events can be top-notch (and they often are) it’s only focused on a moment in time.  The next day everyone goes back to the office and their day-to-day life.  90% of what they learned is so new or in contrast to what they’ve been doing that it’s like New Year’s Resolutions.  Well meant.  Truly desired.  And forgotten within a couple of days or weeks when change gets hard.  So they go back to their old way of behaving.

It’s a Human Problem

What you have here is a human problem.  There may be some events that inspire so much Shock and Awe that change happens immediately and irrevocably.  This usually happens when life or limb are threatened.  I’d venture a guess to say that life or limb aren’t threatened at most of these company one-time Shock and Awe events.  When change isn’t absolutely necessary humans tend to go back to their old way of behaving.   The old way is just easier.  The problem is that we don’t know how to go about creating successful long-term change. So how to do get around this very human problem?

How to Make Sustainable Change Happen

Sustainable change has a few ingredients: It happens over time through structure, discipline and a paradigm shift in our beliefs and the way we think.  It’s also most effective when you’ve accurately diagnosed the issue, have articulated well thought-out goals and objectives for the change you want to produce and have support.

The real truth about real, long-lasting change is this: It ain’t always pretty.  It isn’t always fun.  And it doesn’t always come with a fancy drink with an umbrella in it.  But is important.  And it can be done successfully.

A Few Final Words

Let’s not throw the hare out with the bath water.  You don’t have to completely give up Shock and Awe events.  Maybe a simple tweak is the place to start.  If you have a big event like this make sure that you have a structured, consistent approach to follow-up and make sure that the change is sustainable in the long-term so that you can realize real results.


Small(ish) Town Living

After many years in Chicago—a town I like to affectionately called the Cement Jungle—I moved to Boulder for its beauty and soulful people. Before that I lived in San Francisco. As you can imagine, I’m used to living in pretty BIG cities. Big cities where you often will meet someone and then never see them again. Even though they may live in the same neighborhood as you. In fact, I can’t tell you how many people I knew who lived in my neighborhood who I never saw. I mean literally. Never. Saw. Same neighborhood. Same few haunts. Never saw them. This made life easy in some ways. Didn’t like someone? No worries—they could easily fall off the face of your earth. Said something stupid to someone? Just pretend you have no idea who they are and walk right by them as a nameless, faceless person in the crowd.

Moving to a small(ish) city of around 100,000 (give or take the college students) has been quite a different experience. I’m not good at math but that must be less than 1 percent of the number of people in my former city. It’s quite an adjustment.  People rarely fall off the face of your earth here. Nope they come back. Again. And again. When you want them to. And even more so when you don’t. This makes “breaking up” (with a friend, a person you dated or even a company) a bit more complicated. You can’t just avoid their part of the city and expect to never see them again. It’s also hard to pretend you don’t know them when they’re sitting next to you or across from you in the café.  When you’re driving in traffic you think twice about giving the bird to an irritating driver.  Not that I ever did that in Chicago of course.  Living in a small(ish) town also makes you much more careful about what you say and do. This is a hard, but good thing.

On the plus side, people are very welcoming in my new adopted home city. Maybe they figure that there are only a limited number of us so it pays to be nice. And, once you’ve met a few people they’re happy to introduce you to their friends so pretty soon you have a booming circle of friends and business contacts. You can easily keep track of the events going on around town and people’s names in a smaller city.

After nearly 9 months in my new city nestled up against the mountains I think I’m finally adjusting to living in a small-ish town. One of my dearest friends lives in a teeny mountain town of 2,000 just west of Boulder. While I like to visit I’m pretty sure I won’t be moving there–at least not right now. I’ve got enough to handle adjusting to my own small(ish) town.

For the two people who are reading this…thank you.  And, if I say something stupid, you can pretend you don’t know me the next time you see me. Or better yet, pretend I didn’t say what I did and say hello.  After all, we do live in a small(ish) town—we gotta stick together.